Geneon // 2004 // 50 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // September 22nd, 2005
This is a story about love, friendship, and courage. Zero out of three ain't bad.
Samurai Champloo, Shinichiro Watanabe's long-awaited follow-up to the wildly successful anime Cowboy Bebop, follows closely behind his previous work as a hip amalgamation of style and substance, fluid and kinetic animation styles, and outrageous character designs. Rather than Bebop's harmonious blend of cowboys and jazz, Samurai Champloo sees the merging of samurais and hip-hop, a combination seemingly as natural as nuts and gum.
Swords and rap music? Does it work, you may ask? Oh, yeah, it does. But is it worth getting on UMD to take around with you on your PSP?
In shogun-era Japan, two mysterious swordsmen wander into a small town and immediately cause trouble. The first, Mugen, is a vagrant and vagabond, garishly dressed and full of rancor, and has an unorthodox manner of fighting that vaguely resembles break dancing...if you did it with a big sword. The second, Jin, is a laconic and enigmatic ronin, a disgraced and masterless samurai who travels the land for reasons unknown. Both manage to immediately cause all sorts of trouble with the local government and slay a bunch of officials and immediately lock horns with one another, recognizing the other as a challenging opponent the likes of which they have not seen for a long time. Mugen challenges Jin to a duel to the death, and Jin readily accepts.
Unfortunately, their battle is interrupted when the bar burns down and the two vagrants are arrested by the local lord and put on death's row. Curiously, they are rescued by a young teenage barmaid named Fuu, an action made all the more suspicious considering Mugen and Jin's fight inadvertently burnt down her bar. In return for saving their life, she makes them swear an allegiance (of sorts) to her in order to aid her on a mysterious quest...to travel the countryside searching for a samurai who smells of sunflowers. Fuu also insists that they absolutely abstain from killing one another until the job is completed...after which, they can go ahead and slay themselves silly. And so it is that both men venture out with Fuu, forming an uneasy alliance, a trio held together by a desire to battle over who is the strongest, curiosity over the enigmatic sunflower samurai...and a total lack of anything else to do!
If Cowboy Bebop represented a perfect balance between style and substance, Samurai Champloo would be an exercise in style slightly over substance. There is a plot in Champloo, but it fails to captivate the interest the same way Spike's mysterious past in Bebop did. Each episode is clever and well-developed, but the character development is slow and the enigmatic plot fails to develop in any meaningful way. Instead, you tune in to see the hilariously animated and aggressive animation style, almost graffiti-like in its surrealism, and the cool hip attitude that emanates from every perfectly animated cel and carefully constructed episode. Yes, the show ends up going nowhere, but the journey is so entertaining you hardly notice. Even the annoying theme song gets catchy after a while. This is one of the finer animes I have seen in recent memory, if only for its audacity, its huge entertainment value, and its copious coolness oozing from every animated cel.
After reviewing my first UMD film (Appleseed UMD Mini for PSP) I felt conflicted between the inherent awesomeness of having a pocket-sized version of a film to cart around with me to blow away my friends, and the absurdly foolish venture of actually purchasing such discs with real hard-earned money. To get them for free is one thing; to purchase them is another thing entirely. This segues quite nicely into the main glaring, obese, massive, and painfully obvious problem with Samurai Champloo: Episodes 1 & 2...you only get two episodes.
Two! What kind of bone-headed, chowder-brained fool idea is that? Two measly half-hour episodes totals what, about 50 minutes? Considering other studios manage to cram entire two-hour films (sometimes more) onto a single UMD for other titles, releasing a lousy two episodes per installment is nothing short of open war against the consumer. It is a slap in the face of all that is good and reasonable; a vicious affront to consumer price gouging and...and...
Well, okay, it's not that bad. The one saving grace is the extraordinary cheap price of this UMD, a mere $12 from most electronic retailers. I get the intention here, I think; to whet the appetite of anime collectors through a kind of PSP word-of-mouth, where one guy shows off the episodes on PSP to his friends, and this causes them to go out and spring for the actual product being marketed...Samurai Champloo on DVD. And that is an action I wholeheartedly support, because this would be a great series to own on DVD.
The show looks and sounds quite nice on the small PSP screen. The show has a pale washed-out quality and exaggerated animation style that only becomes more pronounced as the show continues, and the transfer has been made without a single discernable blemish or incongruity. Some of the action moves a bit too fast for the PSP to refresh properly, and Mugen's red tunic often streaks unnecessarily across the background, but overall the show looks quite pleasing. Since the show has a pale hazy look to begin with, black levels are less problematic since the contrast helps distinguish the elements from one another. As for audio, both the English and Japanese tracks sound good with headphones on, full and rich, and with clear dialogue, but the Japanese track is brighter in dialogue tone, and as such more audible to the ears when on the go. The English dub is acceptable in terms of voice acting, if you like that kind of thing.
Samurai Champloo is hip, stylish, hilarious, and addictive, and one of the best animes I have seen in recent memory if only for its sheer enjoyment factor. I have seen every episode of Samurai Champloo, and I plan on seeing them again and again. While not as inherently harmonious and bodacious as Cowboy Bebop, a show perfectly balanced between its outrageous hipness and deep substance, Samurai Champloo is still head and shoulders above most anime on the market today, and absolutely worth picking up...just not on UMD.
If you own the series on DVD, purchasing a lousy two episodes on UMD represents just about the stupidest thing you can do as a rational consumer and, frankly, may still rank up there even if you do own the DVDs. Two episodes represent barely half the capacity of a UMD, entirely unacceptable to market as a product to consumers. Frankly, I would tell Geneon to cram this compact and portable disc straight up their posteriors out of sheer two-episode principal, if Samurai Champloo wasn't such an amazingly @#$%! good show. Oh, the conflict. It tears me up inside, I tells ya.
So, the verdict: fantastic show, but a total rip-off on UMD. The court's unofficial recommendation is to buy the DVDs, encode your own copies onto a memory stick, and save twelve bucks.
Review content copyright © 2005 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 50 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Samurai Champloo: Volume 2 (DVD Verdict)
* Samurai Champloo: Volume 3 (DVD Verdict)
* Samurai Champloo DVD (Official Site)